Raising The Roof Fundraiser

Raising The Roof Fundraiser

CEO of Opportunity Communities Ann Houston (former CEO of TND), Joe Rettman of NEI Interiors Construction, and Rafael Mares, executive director of TND, during the Nov. 13 40th anniversary Raising the Roof fundraiser for TND. The power-packed event took place at the Mystic Brewery in Chelsea and marked the organization’s 40th birthday.

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‘No’ Was a Watershed Moment for Homeownership, Stability in Chelsea

‘No’ Was a Watershed Moment for Homeownership, Stability in Chelsea

This past week, the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals) denied a proposal at the old Midas Site (1005 Broadway) submitted by a partnership between Traggorth Companies and TND (The Neighborhood Developers). That proposal was to build another 42 affordable RENTAL units on the corner of Clinton, Eastern Ave and Broadway.

At the hearing I spoke in OPPOSITION to the proposal along with other area homeowners. My reason for asking the ZBA not to approve the project was because there has been a long growing sentiment that we as a city, no longer should allow rentals to be built without raising homeownership opportunities to an equal level. Chelsea cannot continue to lose another ownership opportunity to rentals. Right now, 80 percent of our housing stock is rentals, meaning that close to 90 percent of our residents spend their money on rent and are subject to the market forces and whims of a landlord.

That is an insane number for a community trying to solve all of the injustices and social ills it has.

Mind you, I support affordable housing but it has to be OWNERSHIP, not rentals. The last time affordable condos (with income guidelines and deed restrictions) were built was in 2007. Those two condo projects were Boxworks (by TND) and Keen Artist Lofts (by IBA). Last year only three affordable condos were available for re-sale compared to 180 market condos.

As a licensed real estate broker, I have first-hand experience of not being able to find affordable homes in Chelsea for our teachers, police officers, trades people, Logan Airport workers, etc. Our local businesses depend on a working class being nearby. Some may try to paint my advocacy for ownership as self-serving.

Please don’t.

Real estate agents can earn a commission on rentals too. I am here advocating for the betterment of my community and am using my experience and knowledge to influence policy and discussion. Also, I have been contracted by TND in the past to assist in a purchase of multi-families. I’m pretty sure this position isn’t helpful to my real estate career or relationship with them.

Since 2010, we have seen nearly 4,000 apartments built. TND itself has built three large affordable projects along Spencer Avenue. They also built the affordable rentals on Shurtleff Street at former Winnisimmet Club, the Latimer Lewis home on Shawmut Street, and in the Box District on Gerrish Avenue and Highland. This is in addition to the many three-families in Chelsea they have bought which were once the pathway for ownership for the working class in Chelsea.

That in no way is helpful to a community trying to make itself vibrant, active, interested and vocal about the going-ons within its community. Homeowners have long been a minority. Our school population reflects this dire situation with the annual entrance and exit of new students/former students numbering in the hundreds. Civic participation and active voting is dismal for a community with a population of 50,000.

My support for ownership over rentals was widely agreed as a valid concern by many in the room, including those supporting the TND proposal. One TND supporter who is now a homeowner said herself, “Ever since my family bought our home, I care more about how clean my street is, who is hanging around, if there is suspected criminal activity etc.”

That’s what those opposing more rentals are encouraging.

Additionally, affordable rental units force its tenants to stay poor. In order to qualify, a working class household has to stay under the income guidelines. The incentive is to make less, not more. Conversely, if you buy an affordable home, and you get a raise at work, then it doesn’t matter. You don’t get kicked out. And when you sell, its sold at an affordable rate again.

And all the while those 4,000-plus apartments were and are being built, we are losing and lost our working class residents because prices of homes have gone up and there are no new ownerships opportunities being built for them.

Chelsea is becoming a city of either rich (by Chelsea Standards) or very poor. No middle working class.

A couple making $60,000 to $80,000 combined per year cannot afford to live in Chelsea. Too little income for the market rates at some of the newer buildings while too much income for TND’s apartments.

The City Council voted to require new police and firefighters to live in Chelsea (a policy I think is a city budget mistake; more on that later) yet we have no program or policy on how to help them achieve that on their entry level salary.

I am on record with having sponsored and supported the Inclusionary Zoning which requires developers to have to include at least 15 percent of building affordable.

I am on record with having sponsored the Community Preservation Act order that placed it on the ballot in 2016, and campaigned for its passage to the voters of Chelsea. The voters overwhelmingly supported it.

Last week, under the order request from Councilor Leo Robinson, the City Council met with Executive Director Helen Zucco and her staff from Chelsea Restoration. Chelsea Restoration is the other (apparently forgotten or unknown by some Chelsea activists) longest serving non-profit agency that has both built affordable home ownership housing and has graduated thousands of Chelsea Residents from their First Time Home Buyer Courses.

It reminded my colleagues and informed our new city manager both what has been done and what has to be done with some of funding sources from the CPA and with support from the City.

The CPA funds should be used for supporting our current working class residents and city employees on increasing the down payment assistance provide by Chelsea Restoration and local banks for first time home buyers course graduates.

If my Colleagues and the community advocates really feel strongly about our City employees living here, then support added down payment assistance for them with CPA funds.

If TND says there is no state funding for non-profits to build affordable ownership, then support the private condo developments that include affordable units.

The City should bring back its problem property program that takes over abandoned dilapidated properties with CPA funding and sets up an agency like Chelsea Restoration as a receiver to rehab and sell as an affordable home to first time homebuyers.

I am willing to get together with TND and take them up on their executive director’s offer to discuss creating ownership opportunities.

I will work with them to look at their portfolio of 49 properties…and offer some of those three-families to their renter occupants as an affordable purchase. We can require them take the Chelsea Restoration home buying course, get down payment assistance and along with TND’s financial literacy training create a stable owner occupant while charging affordable rent to the other two units. Or, convert those three families to three affordable condos.

Some of those properties have been owned by TND for more than 20 years now and were bought at a low value. They can surely sell it very low.

Let’s sit down and take another look at the Midas site and the undisclosed purchase price Taggart agreed to and see if now, you cannot go back to the seller and get a lower price to support 42 condo units with 50 percent being affordable.

Let’s look again at the Seidman Property that TND has under agreement on Sixth Street, and instead of making plans again for more apartments, let’s sit down and try to run the numbers as condos with a 50 percent affordable rate.

That property had previously been under agreement with a private developer. That proposal was to have 60 condo units with 20 percent affordable.

Surely, if we sit down with TND and housing advocates and experts and look at the numbers we can do better than 20 percent affordable by a private non-subsidized developer. I mean if there is no profit needed…we can make it at least 50 percent affordable can’t we?

While TND continues to try to buy the former Boston Hides and Furs site, keep in mind that you will have to build condos, not apartments. That should help you negotiate a workable purchase price.

It wasn’t a sad day when the ZBA said ‘no’ to TND’s proposal. It was, I hope, a watershed moment for the city’s beleaguered homeowners who have said enough is enough. It’s been sad in Chelsea for a long time now…ever since we became a super-majority city of renters.

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Working Together:Traggorth, TND to Unite Once Again on Upper Broadway Project

Working Together:Traggorth, TND to Unite Once Again on Upper Broadway Project

A partnership between the Traggorth Companies and The Neighborhood Developers (TND) will soon file for a project that includes 42 units of affordable and market rate apartments on a long-vacant property at 1001 Broadway – right on the Chelsea City Line.

Traggorth and TND once worked together to create the Box District, with Traggorth being responsible for the Atlas Lofts project within that district.

Dave Traggorth said he and TND have been in some extensive outreach with Mill Hill neighbors regarding the project for some time this month. After an initial proposal to neighbors before July 4th, the developers went back to the table to make some tweaks.

Those changes were reported back in a public meeting on Monday, July 16, in the Mary C. Burke Complex.

“Our current plan calls for 42 residential units over about 1,100 sq. ft. of retail space and a lobby and community areas,” he said. “There will also be 42 parking spaces on the ground floor. That’s the program we’re proposing. That’s after we got feedback from our neighbors along Clinton Street.”

The input included some design initiatives, such as keeping the building lower on Clinton Street than on the Broadway side.

On Broadway, he said, there would be a five-story structure with four residential floors over one floor of parking. On the Clinton Street side, there would be two levels of residential over one level of parking.

“The idea is to keep the height as low as possible on the Clinton Street and provide a buffer between the Broadway corridor and the Clinton Street residential district,” he said.

Per input from the neighbors, the developers have now included some market rate units, where before there were none.

That means there will be 33 affordable units (at 60 percent AMI, or about $55,000 per year for a family) and nine market rate units in the building.

Traggorth said there is a big demand for affordable housing in Chelsea.

“There’s a strong demand here for affordable housing,” he said. “TND is getting ready to draw for the Arcadia (French Club) project and they have 1,400 applications from Chelsea residents for 32 units. There’s just a tremendous demand for affordable housing here to prevent displacement. We’ve heard it loud and clear.”

Meanwhile, one great amenity for the public as a result of the potential development is 3,000 sq. ft. of public open space along the waterfront at Mill Creek.

“It’s part of reclaiming the waterfront and will connect with the hotel waterfront project and the playground further up at the Commons,” he said. “We’re looking at options and we want to start that conversation with the community about their vision for that open space and what would work there. Kudos to the City for having that waterfront vision plan.”

That waterfront plan was conducted in 2016 and called for opening up the waterfront to the public at most potential development sites, such as 1001 Broadway.

Traggorth said they would be filing with the City very soon to start the formal review process. The meetings and neighborhood input were all pre-file work that he said they wanted to do before beginning the process.

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TND to Announce Rafael Mares as New Executive Director

TND to Announce Rafael Mares as New Executive Director

As The Neighborhood Developers (TND) celebrates its 40th year in existence, the Chelsea-based organization is poised to announce its new director, Rafael Mares, at a celebration function tonight, May 31.

Rafael Mares, formerly of the Conservation Law Foundation,
will step in as the new executive director of TND in Chelsea, Revere and Everett. He replaces long-time director Ann Houston who has moved over to lead a collaborative organization between TND and Nuestra Communidad in Roxbury.

Mares is a Revere resident and will replace 15-year director Ann Houston – who will be moving on to a new collaboration project between TND and Nuestra Communidad in Roxbury. Houston will also be honored at the event May 31.

Mares has been working at the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) in the fields of housing, environmental justice and transportation – often working in the Chelsea, Revere, Everett area that TND serves.

“My work has always been on the state and regional level,” he said. “From time to time I had the opportunity work with Community Development Corporations (CDCs) in Somerville and Lawrence. I really enjoyed partnering with CDCs…So, I was particularly attracted to running a CDC in my own community of Revere…I always felt particularly excited about working on issues where I live.”

Part of the celebration will be to mark the creation of 400 affordable housing units in four years at TND, but Mares said he wants to do the same in much less time.

“My goal is to continue that good work, but speed it up,” he said. “We need to be working to do what we did in 40 years in a shorter time period. We need to be able to do that same thing in seven years…I think Greater Boston has seen significant growth and there has been pressure on people who have become displaced from housing…I feel in Chelsea, Everett and Revere – unlike downtown Boston – we still have opportunities for affordable housing unlike other areas where it’s rare. It’s extremely important to develop affordable housing before the opportunity is missed.”

Mares moved to Boston in 1996 to attend law school. After that, he worked at the Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain for 10 years. Then he went to CLF. He now lives in Revere with his family, including three young children. Incidentally, his home in Beachmont Revere burnt down last February, and he is living temporarily in Winthrop until the home there is rebuilt.

Houston said Mares is a great follow-up for what she did, and she challenged him to speed up affordable housing development.

“I think maybe he can do even better,” she said. “I’m going to challenge him to do that much development in six years.”

CLF President Bradley Campbell wished Mares well and said he is very capable.

Rafael has been a steadfast advocate for healthy communities across New England,” said Campbell. “His work ensuring equitable access to the MBTA and fighting for environmental justice in places like Lawrence, Massachusetts will have a lasting impact on countless lives. All of us at CLF will certainly miss his energy and the passion he showed for his work over the last nine years.”

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he is looking forward to working with him.

“I’m excited for TND and have a great deal of respect for Rafael,” he said. “He was a tremendous advocate at CLF. I feel he’s capable, straight forward and helpful. I’m looking forward to him taking on this new role.”

For Houston, she will be moving on to head up a new collaboration called OppCo, which offers services to CDCs – with the founding collaborators being TND and Nuestra.

She said there are a lot of things that can be done to scale, such as some services and administration of CDCs. However, she said they are looking to create something that keeps the power local and keeps the local touch in place while also saving money on combining services.

“The challenge we face is our work grows increasingly complex and to be efficient, we need greater scale,” she said. “You see savings, but you can lose that local connection. That connection is our most precious resource and we can’t lose that. TND has always been an organization that didn’t do well having to make a choice…OppCo is the answer to how we can do both.”

She said some of the services could include financial management, real estate development, asset management, residential services, data analysis.

“We hope OppCo becomes something that allows CDCs to increase capacity to serve local communities without sacrificing that local connection,” she said. “We’re encouraged by the excitement it’s received from CDCs so far.”

OppCo was in the planning stages all last year, and was launched officially on April 1.

The TND 40th Anniversary Gala and Annual Meeting will take place tonight, May 31, at 6 p.m. in the Homewood Suites in Chelsea. The guest speaker will be Congressman Michael Capuano, with honorees being Mike Sandoval (partner of the year), Inocencia Perez (volunteer of the year) and Jan Dumas (Revere member of the year).

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TND to Announce New Director at Annual Meeting

TND to Announce New Director at Annual Meeting

The Neighborhood Developers (TND) will announce its new director on May 31 just as it honors its outgoing, long-time Director Ann Houston.

Trey Greer of TND told the Record that the big announcement for their new director will come during their 40th Anniversary Annual Meeting at the Homewood Suites in Chelsea on May 31.

“Part of this process is that Ann Houston, TND’s Executive Director,

will be moving up to lead this new partnership,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Ann really defined the TND we all know today. And so, TND will be taking on a new Executive Director. They will be announced at our Annual Celebration on May 31.”

Houston has been the director of TND for quite some time, but an announcement came this month officially that she would be transitioning to a larger role that would encompass TND and Roxbury’s Nuestra Comunidad Development Corp.

It’s called OppCo, and it will involve preparing partner CDCs for the next generation of our work: building homes, supporting communities, and fostering opportunities.

The 40th Anniversary comes on May 31st at Homewood suites in

Chelsea at 6 p.m.

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Former TND Director Ann Houston to Depart, become CEO of Merged Non-Profit

Former TND Director Ann Houston to Depart, become CEO of Merged Non-Profit

The Neighborhood Developers (TND) announced this week in a release ahead of its 40th Anniversary celebration that long-time Executive Director Ann Houston will be departing to become the new CEO of a new, merged community development corporation.

“TND will honor outgoing Executive Director Ann Houston as she takes on the new role of CEO of Opportunity Communities, where she will continue to provide leadership and vision to TND through this exciting new partnership,” read the announcement.

Houston was not immediately available for comment on the move.

TND declined to comment on the matter as well this week.

The announcement indicated Houston would be the new CEO of Opportunity Communities.

That new collaboration is with Roxbury’s Nuestra Communidad Community Development Corporation (CDC), a partnership between that organization and TND that launched in April.

“In April 2018, we launched a company for back office operations known as Opportunity Communities (OppCo) with a sister organization, The Neighbor Developers (TND), based in Chelsea,” read the website for the new partnership. “This is our newest partnership, designed to achieve better results for the Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods we serve. There is no change to Nuestra’s board, staff, leadership, mission, office, programs, projects, agreements, relationships and commitments to neighbors and local stakeholders.

“This new company allows Nuestra and TND to combine our back office operations and staff,” it continued. “By centralizing our accounting, purchasing, data collection, HR, IT and other management functions, Nuestra can most efficiently deliver high-quality, effective services and programs for Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.”

Houston has been the face of TND since it planted its flag in the Box District many years ago and built out several blocks of what used to be derelict industrial properties. Using a formula of creating civic awareness in a mixed-income development of subsidized and market-rate housing, TND created a successful model in the Box District.

Since that time, they have developed other properties in Chelsea, including the old American Legion Post that houses homeless veterans in supportive housing. They are currently developing the old French Club into affordable housing.

In year’s past, TND moved into Revere to develop affordable and senior housing there. It has just expanded to Everett, where a proposal is on the table for a large senior housing development there on the former site of St. Therese’s Church campus.

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Housing for Young Parents to Open in Chelsea

The Neighborhood Developers (TND) and Roca announced on Tuesday afternoon the completion of Lewis Latimer Place in Chelsea – a four-unit supportive housing development on the Shawmut Street site of the birthplace of Lewis Latimer.

With the support of the City of Chelsea, and other funding partners, The Neighborhood Developers has redeveloped the formerly vacant site into four, two-bedroom homes. The newly constructed apartments at Lewis Latimer Place will soon provide homes for at-risk, or high-risk young pregnant or parenting families. The new apartments will provide affordable, energy efficient and healthy living located not far from the many amenities in downtown Chelsea.

“We wanted to think of solutions for high-risk people with children who don’t have housing,” said TND Director Ann Houston. “It’s hard enough to change risky behaviors and then to be a parent when you don’t have a home makes it so much harder. We thought about what we needed and looked at what would work and the Lewis Latimer home was born. This is four units and that’s a small drop in the bucket, but please see this as the first of many locations providing these types of housing and supports.”

The new building is named after Lewis Latimer, who was born in 1848 in a building that formerly occupied this site. The son of a runaway slave, Latimer executed the drawings for Alexander Graham Bell’s patent for the telephone and invented a carbon filament to make electric lights longer lasting and more affordable. The ribbon cutting will include the unveiling of a plaque in Latimer’s honor. The plaque is a collaboration with Chelsea’s Lewis H. Latimer Society – headed up by City Councillor Leo Robinson and his brother, Ron Robinson.

“This is a big day for us,” said Ron. “We’ve been at it 18 years now to try to get something in Chelsea named for Lewis Latimer. We wanted to build a legacy and it’s forming now. Hopefully, three blocks up the street will be the Lewis Latimer Park…When we first started, there wasn’t a lot of information about him – a paragraph here or a museum there. We are now part of an organization united all along the eastern seaboard. We found this organization to use Latimer as a role model for young people to show that you can accomplish anything and overcome any obstacle with education.”

Lewis Latimer Place represents a new collaborative effort between TND and Roca pairing affordable homes with supportive services tailored to family needs. Roca is an experienced and nationally-recognized service provider that has helped more than 20,000 young people change their behaviors and transform their lives. Roca has partnered with TND to provide supportive services to residents, addressing interpersonal relationships, stage-based education, life skills and parenting supports, and employment programming.

“This is an exciting day. We are honored to collaborate with TND, the City of Chelsea and the funders on this great project, said Molly Baldwin, Founder and CEO of Roca. “Supporting young people, one cluster of apartments at a time, will promise that our community helps young parents and families move towards stable and happy lives.”

The Lewis Latimer project team included Timberline Construction Corporation and Horne + Johnson / StepONE architects.

The project was also made possible with the support of the City of Chelsea, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, Boston Private Bank, Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, North Suburban Consortium, MassDevelopment, MassHousing, and Charlesbank Homes.

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TND Comes Back with Scaled-Down Proposal for French Club Site

When neighbors rose up in arms against the former, 60-unit affordable housing apartment building on the old French Club site at Spencer Avenue, TND got the brunt of neighborhood frustration, and this week the organization said it has listened to those concerns and has a new plan.

After a productive meeting in October with neighbors, TND has unveiled a plan for 34 units of affordable housing with 34 parking spots in a four-story building and a return of the Spencer Avenue extension that was once taken by eminent domain for the larger project – which proposed 60 unit and around 52 parking spots.

“We have been listening very closely and have made significant changes to this proposal,” said Emily Loomis, director of real estate development at TND. “We reduced the size of the building to four stories, brought it down from 60 to 34 apartments, increased our off-street parking ratio to provide one space for each apartment, and will be keeping that section of Spencer Avenue open because we listened to our neighbors. Our conversations, phone calls, and meetings brought their ideas to the table and I am very happy with what we have designed. All along, we have been hearing a common concern across Chelsea about rents going up, and people getting pushed out. High-quality, affordable apartments directly address this concern.”

The proposal will have five one-bedroom units, 22 two-bedroom units and seven three-bedroom units. There will also be a public community room available and a common area.

A hearing at the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) is scheduled now for Dec. 8, and the Planning Board will take it up on Dec. 15.

Councillor Matt Frank said he is taking a measured approach and hasn’t seen the full plans yet.

“The French Club proposal is one I’m still waiting on and don’t have a comment just yet,” he said. “They brought the numbers of units down to 34 apartments and gave the street back. Until everything is out for everyone to see, I can’t form a total opinion.”

All apartments in the proposal will be rented to households earning no more than 60 percent of the Area Median Income. For example, the maximum income for a family of four is currently about $59,000. By comparison, the average family income in the surrounding census tract is about $57,000, according to the American Community Survey. As housing costs continue to rise throughout Chelsea, this project will fill an immediate need for high-quality homes that will stay affordable over the long term, said Loomis.

The term of the affordable units is to be around 30 years, and locked into the percentages stated above.

TND affirmed that the project is important to keeping the City affordable for working families.

Loomis said this project would have an average rent of around $1,300, including heat and hot water. By comparison, she said, 550 market-rate units h

A new rendering of the plans for the French Club affordable housing building. The project is to be developed by TND and was scaled back due to neighbors protesting the previous plans.

A new rendering of the plans for the French Club affordable housing building. The project is to be developed by TND and was scaled back due to neighbors protesting the previous plans.

ave been built in the neighborhood during the past several years with the monthly rent for a two-bedroom unit going at around $2,000, without utilities.

“In order to spend 30 percent of income on housing costs, a family would need to earn at least $76,000 to afford this rent – a much higher income level than many hard working families in Chelsea earn,” read a statement from TND.

TND also indicated that they’ve reached out to neighbors on their list and who came to the October meeting in an e-mail this week that details the above plans for the Club.

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TND Ready to Respond to Neighbors

After a fast and furious opposition emerged from Mill Hill neighbors to the 60-unit affordable housing apartment building proposed at the French Club over the past month, The Neighborhood Developers said it will take comments to heart, but defended the need for affordable housing in that neighborhood.

“We’ll spend the next month revising our plans and hopefully correct the problem areas and address them and continue our effort to create affordable housing for people who are living her and want to continue living her, and simply continuing Chelsea’s great revival,” said TND Director Ann Houston this week. “Clearly we’re a little surprised at the response because we know how much Chelsea needs affordable housing. We’ve been hearing from so many residents in Chelsea and city officials about the need for housing affordable to Chelsea residents who have been here. There is a growing concern about gentrification.”

She cited that the last affordable housing project they did in Chelsea garnered 1,200 applications – many more than the number of units available.

TND has been active in Chelsea for many years and successfully developed The Box District and other smaller projects in the central part of the city. However, when acquiring the French Club and its parking lot and beginning to develop near a much more traditional residential neighborhood – that being Mill Hill – the affordable housing developers ran into a wall of sudden opposition.

TND purchased the former Club for $975,000 in September 2014, and purchased the parking lot next door this past March. An extension of Spencer Avenue running between the Club and the parking lot was discontinued by the City Council in early May – and many neighbors have said they were not apprised of that change.

Hundreds of neighbors have signed petitions against the project, and many believe there is already too much affordable housing in Chelsea. Others have said they would like to see home ownership opportunities at the site.

Councillor Matt Frank, who initially supported the project, said last week that he has withdrawn that support because his constituents are so adamantly opposed to the project and because he doesn’t believe there was enough communication.

TND folks, however, said that the average income in Mill Hill is $57,000 and that’s well-within the limits for affordable housing. They also said that most of the development in that area of the City has been market rate housing, and other such market-rate developments threaten to drive up rents all over Chelsea.

“There has been right around the elementary school a fair amount of housing developed, but not for families or children,” said Houston. “We were and continue to be very excited to develop housing at this site that is really affordable to families in Chelsea and is able to get children right across the street to the Burke elementary complex. We do have to continue to make sure we have housing for people who have been in Chelsea and have been Chelsea residents and who we fear will be pushed out. We see a proposal for a 692-unit apartment complex that’s all market rate on Everett Avenue. That can help drive up rents across the community.”

Aside from that, though, Houston said they have heard Mill Hill loud and clear.

“We have heard concerns neighbors have raised and we’re taking them very, very seriously,” she said. “We wish we would have had the opportunity to talk outside a public meeting. We appreciate that didn’t happen and will find other opportunities to sit down with the neighbors.”

TND’s Emily Loomis said they believe there was good communication on the project, something TND has been criticized about.

She said they knocked on doors, had conversations and answered questions. If no one answered the door, they left fliers with information about the proposal.

Another point of contention has been the discontinued street on Spencer Avenue, which many Mill Hill residents use to get to the City Hall area without having to go all the way down Broadway.

“I’m not sure if people realize there’s still a cut through on Toomey Street,” Houston said. “Taking the street was in line with the other sorts of actions the City has done to help development, particularly private development. I am sure if you’re used to the cut-through, it feels significant, but taking Toomey Street curve will quickly become the normal driving pattern and won’t represent a problem.”

Finally, TND said it didn’t believe there were any conflicts of interest that played a part in the development of the French Club.

Planning Board Chair Tuck Willis is on the Board of Directors for TND and, thus, was listed on the deed for the entity that purchased the French Club. That said, Willis recused himself from the proceedings, and other members of the Planning Board with ties to TND are simply volunteers.

“I think the state Conflict of Interest law is very, very clear and mean to protect against these things,” she said. “I think you saw that when the one member with ties to TND recused himself in a good and forthright manner. One other member of the Planning Board volunteers with TND (Henry Wilson) and was frankly one of our toughest questioners. I noted members nodding in support of neighbors. I am sure when they’re ready to make a decision, they’ll make an unbiased suggestion…We don’t think we have a tight ‘in’ with either of the boards. We think people have been operating in a very forthright manner.”

The matter will be addressed at the Zoning Board of Appeals on July 14, and then again at the Planning Board on July 28.

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Detours and Developments A Summer of Construction Highland Greenway: Connecting from One Side of the Hill to the Other Third in a Series on…

Detours and Developments A Summer of Construction Highland Greenway: Connecting from One Side of the Hill to the Other Third in a Series on…

As the new Silver Line Station soon begins to take shape in the Box District at the northern end of Highland Street later this year or early next year, City officials predict a daily exodus of workers and commuters coming down the street and to the station.

Such a walk, right now, is no hard ordeal – aside from the steep hill and long staircase – but it’s not a pretty walk, and what isn’t in disrepair isn’t exactly inspiring. Highland Street is one of the few north and south streets in the densely populated east side of the city that runs unobstructed for pedestrians from the waterfront to the train tracks – where there will soon be a new station.

Keeping all of that in mind, City planners have put together a cobbling of plans to make the Highland Street corridor more interesting, more pedestrian friendly and a true connecting point for residents on either side of the hill.

The plan, according to Planner John DePriest, is known as the Highland Greenway.

Already, on April 30, the City held a meeting to detail the plans underway for the proposed project, which will begin construction, it is hoped, in July.

The centerpiece of that project will be the rehabilitation of Bellingham Hill Park, but will also include a small passive park at 97 Library St. and improvements to the Highland Stairs. Those improvements will be connected with a greening of the whole pathway, along with the existing Box District Park at the corner of Highland and Gerrish (which is only two years old).

“We want to make a visual connection to the Greenway but also connect the neighborhood to the new Silver Line Station,” said DePriest. “We’ve started to design process for Bellingham Hill park, which has to be done by June 30, 2016. We plan to put a new park at 97 Library St. and improve the stairs. In between those areas and down to the Box District Silver Line Station, we’ll make streetscape improvements to create a green corridor. We’ll have more trees and we’ll trim the trees on the stairs. We’ll do crosswalks and better signage.”

Design of Bellingham Hill Park is to conclude in June, and construction is expected to begin in July – with a goal of finishing this fall. The park project will cost $800,000, with half of that being picked up via a state grant.

Ann Houston, executive director of The Neighborhood Developers (TND), said the Greenway project came out of a plan that her organization helped create in 2009 – known as the Bellingham Hill Action Plan. With a big stake in the properties along Highland Street and in the Box District, TND is more than happy to see the idea sprout.

“We’re just delighted it’s now coming into fruition,” said Houston. “Highland is such an important corridor. It does connect the Shurtleff-Bellingham neighborhood, but it could definitely use some greening. That would definitely help things. This project is terrific and an important piece in improving this neighborhood and making it a really pleasant place.”

One challenge identified by Houston and Emily Loomis, also of TND, is the fact that the stairs lie right int he middle of the plan. The stairs were implemented several years ago and were certainly an improvement, but the last chapter on making the stairs perfect has yet to be written.

It is hoped that it will be written with the current project.

“It’s such a challenge there particularly because of it’s grade and the narrow size of the area,” said Loomis. “I think there is consensus around making it more attractive, clean and safe.”

“They are a real challenge,” added Houston. “We talked about this a great deal during our action plan. The greatest challenge of them being that they’re pretty steep…I don’t know what the answer is, but there has been some ideas around terracing it for gardening, or even terracing it for resting places.”

That, however, is just Phase 1 of the overall idea.

The second phase, DePriest said, is about the other side of the hill – connecting Bellingham Hill Park to the waterfront and, ultimately, the PORT Park on Marginal Street.

Already, sidewalk improvements are underway this spring to help get that part of the phase 2 up and running.

Nothing is set in stone just yet for how Phase 2 will look or when it will happen.

All that’s known now is that the City doesn’t want to stop at the top of the hill.

“The bigger idea is to connect the entire area down to the PORT Park on Marginal Street so that there’s one uniform corridor making it very easy to go back and forth,” he said. “That, however, will be the subject of a future grant.”

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